How to pick the Right Typeface

Lower case ‘a’ from Adobe Caslon Pro, superpos...


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To find the right typeface, one that fits the purpose and matches the general concept of the work, you need the skill to recognize a typeface’s scope for variation and its range of expression. You have to be able to utilize techniques and materials in the best way. Step-by-step instructions are impossible to give. The follow recommendations attempt to keep you from making common mistakes, a personal style will develop over time.

Always consider the individual contributing factors in their relationship to the whole. No single face can serve all purposes at once. Design elements such as size and proportions of the format, margins, line spacing, back ground color and foreground color all help determine the end result. Even a relatively neutral typeface such as a sans serif can appear in a rich variety of forms simply through the different arrangement of the letter on the page.

Match style and materials. Tools and materials contribute significantly to the final form of your work. By the same token, you should never force a style into a form that has developed from an unrelated process. Some typefaces are only useful for letters of certain sizes. To enlarge a font beyond a certain height or to model it in a three-dimensional is to invite disaster.

Try to create a layout that is original enough so those viewers will remember it and recognize it when they encounter it again. Always keep the entire graphic context in mind. When choosing a typeface, consider the effects it may have upon the faces that will be combined with it.

Size and weight relationships are subject to the same laws as other compositional elements. The inherent contrasts can be heightened by the choice of type; relative neutral faces are best suited to the task. Wherever possible, match the typeface to the content and the sprit of the text. Part of the communicative function of writing is the emotional impression it makes on the viewer and the associations that it creates on a conscious or unconscious level. Some designs try to create the desired associations in misguided ways: the name of a coal mine should not be represented by letters that are forced into the shapes of black lumps, nor should a sign for a refrigeration company sports letter that look like melting icicles.

Letters do not represent. A possible exception is the creation of logotypes, where a fusion of letter and pictogram is justified. If you choose a typeface for literary texts, for topics of art, music, or history, try to match the time period of your media. The typeface will gain expressive force from stylistic coherence. Study and compare the historical styles of various epochs to sharpen your skills. This is not the only approach to find the correct form for a given text. Historical associations are important, but it is also necessary to consider the graphic values inherent in the letters themselves and the resulting psychological effects.

Materials and tools possess specific properties, such as smoothness, precision, heaviness, or roughness. The width of the basic stroke and its relation to interior spaces and letter height create narrow or wide, thick or thin letters. These proportions and thick-thin contrast make the text appear airy and light, thin and dim, or heavy and dark. The direction of the basic strokes and connections between them also creates impressions: round, soft, flourished, tight, pointed, hard, stiff. The rhythm of movement can be smooth, flowing, intense, swinging, rigid, controlled, or monotonous; the dynamic can be forceful, energetic and vigorous or restrained, inhibited and obstructed. The general expression can be muted, intense, individualistic, differentiated, mannerist, or artificial. It is, of course, impossible to assign a set of descriptive attributes to each alphabet, and it seems obvious that all characterizations are relative. We all connect certain images to words, and it is therefore possible to express properties inherent in a thing by means of writing. The designer’s personality, temperament, taste, imagination and creative powers will necessarily influence the outcome, especially if he or she also designs the typefaces. A good graphic artist will never try to be original at any cost.

Noteworthy sources:

Hildegard, Korger. [1992] Hand Book of Type and Lettering. Design Press.

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